Discovering hidden carbon in dryland soils

In this project, I investigated the stocks and runoff-induced lateral transfers of organic and inorganic carbon from a semiarid soil across a vegetation transition from a grass-dominated to a shrub-dominated ecosystem.

We found 90% of soil carbon was present in inorganic forms, but that a large proportion of the total carbon stock (both organic and inorganic) was associated with large > 2 mm particles. This matters because these large particles are ignored by conventional soil surveys, which would then greatly understimate carbon stocks in these kinds of soils.

We found that eroded sediment was substantially enriched in carbon relative to the contributing topsoils, and that the lateral transfer of both organic and inorganic carbon increased across a transition from a grass-dominated to a shrub-dominated landscape. Both of these processes were poorly represented in most models simulating the lateral redistribution of carbon in these landscapes.

Convective storms yield high-intensity rainfall that casues overland flow and lateral transfers of soil and carbon

We used ground-based LiDAR to build 3D reconstructions of the desert surface to learn about how topography controls the redistribution of water, sediment and carbon around the ecosystem

To find out more about this project, check out Cunliffe et al. (2016) Dryland, calcareous soils store (and lose) significant quantities of organic carbon, J. Geophys. Res. Earth Surf. 121(4):684-702. DOI:10.1002/2015JF003628. Download PDF